By: Mark Fitzgerald
Battling Over the Ozarks
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by Mark Fitzgerald
In a unique arrangement that with one fell swoop transforms the
competition for readers in the growing Ozarks region, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the largest newspaper in the state, is merging
its advertising, billing, production, and circulation operations
with those of two small dailies that have struggled in the shadow
of Donrey Media Group’s The Morning News.
By combining the regional clout of Wehco Media Inc.’s
178,000-circulation Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock with the local
appeal of Community Publishers Inc.’s (CPI) 15,000-circulation
Northwest Arkansas Times in Fayetteville and 11,000-circulation
Benton County Daily Record in Bentonville, the three papers hope
to nullify the big circulation edge in the Ozarks that Donrey’s
35,000-circulation Morning News in Springdale has enjoyed since
the mid-1990s. Like this latest move by its competitors, Donrey
made The Morning News dominant in northwestern Arkansas with a
single bold stroke in 1994: It combined two small local dailies
to create the third-largest paper in the state.
‘That allowed Donrey to dominate the region,’ said Paul R. Smith,
vice president and general manager of the Democrat-Gazette.
‘Basically they were the No. 1 buy, and CPI and the Democrat-Gazette
were fighting to see who would be the No. 2 buy.’
In recent years, Smith said, the two publishers began to see the
futility of competing against each other. Last month, they formally
agreed to create a competitive front against Donrey. The plan, which
the papers emphasize is not a joint operating agreement, was quietly
submitted to the U.S. Justice Department. After a 30-day review
lapsed without any antitrust objections, the publishers began
implementing it last Sunday.
Under the plan, CPI and Wehco are merging all business and production
operations, but each paper will be printed on its existing presses.
Editorial operations will not be combined, although the Democrat-Gazette
will concentrate on state, national, and international news while the
CPI papers emphasize local news. Each subscriber to the Fayetteville
and Bentonville papers will get a copy of the Democrat-Gazette along
with the regular paper, while those receiving the Northwest edition of
the Democrat-Gazette will also get delivery of either the Times or the
Daily Record depending on where they live.
‘When we eliminate duplicated circulation, we will have a newspaper that
has about the same circulation [in the Ozarks] as The Morning News,’
Rate cards will not be announced until the circulation system is settled
in about three weeks, but the papers are promising advertisers that the
cost per thousand will be ‘exactly the same rate’ as The Morning News,
Morning News Publisher Tom Stallbaumer said advertisers will need to be
convinced about the combination circulation, and may not see the value
in being in two papers – especially given readers’ perceptions that
they have limited time for the newspaper. The Morning News also has
changes under way: Beginning Friday, it will start its first daily zoning
into its four main municipalities, and its business section will expand
from three days to six.
Stallbaumer said, ‘Our philosophy is pretty much that we’re going to
continue doing what we need to keep market share.’
Mark Fitzgerald (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor at
large for E&P.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher